FBA Member Cycling Adventures – Part Two
Tom DeMarco, MD, is a FBA member since 2001. He divides his time between Whistler, Vancouver and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tom often shares his cycling adventures and we are happy to share them as well. This is Part Two of his Two Part tale. Enjoy!
Editor’s note: Part one ended with Tom encountering his “life bird” #3164, the elusive Corsican Nuthatch. His story from this past spring’s 4-week bike tour of several Mediterranean islands continues on mainland Italy:
Generally too intensively engaged in chitchat in bars and cafes, Italians rarely get around to repairing their crumbling backroads. But they are very diligent about acknowledging the matter. Over the course of 20,000 km of cycling in my ancestral land, I’ve seen the warning sign STRADA DISSESTATA (rough road) at least 500 times. On high-pressure 23mm tires, these stretches can render the ride bone-jarring, or even bone-breaking I am to learn this trip…
Crossing a bridge after yet another bumpy descent in the vineyards of Ravenna near the Adriatic coast, my head stops rattling sufficiently to allow me to focus on the image in the rear-view mirror attached to my helmet. Hmm, no Hisano. My riding partner often disappears on long climbs but as an expert alpine skier she’s comfortable with the kinetic energy provided by gravity, so she never lags far behind on downhills.
Unlike me, she doesn’t stop to observe birds, so I’m guessing she has punctured a tire. I hail the first motorist to appear. “Hai visto una ciclista straniera lassù?” (Did you see a foreign woman cyclist up there?) There are many local riders out this Sunday morning in May, but mostly men, and no Japanese. “Si, e caduta” (Yes, she fell). Hmm, not good, but I’m still not terribly worried because Hisano has long been an accomplished crash-test dummy. Even on smooth roads, she seems to fall off her bike on most of the tours we do, invariably suffering nothing more sinister than superficial abrasions and somehow never damaging her bike.
Looking uphill, I notice 3 cars parked on the roadside that were not there 5 minutes ago. Hmm, again, not good. I climb the slope to find poor Hisano sitting on the grass, in obvious pain, barely able to speak, with a couple of sympathetic locals already attending to her, applying disinfectant to multiple open wounds.
I notice a big dent in her helmet. She can’t recall, but presumably she launched off a pothole. She appears to be in good hands, so I turn my attention to her bike. I straighten the bars and disentangle the derailleur from the rear wheel. Miraculously, the bicycle is soon OK, but it is evident that the bicycle engine (Hisano) is not. Her first DNF (Did Not Finish) after years of accompanying me on international bike tours, she has tragically crashed out literally within sight of what was supposed to be the 27th European country she’d cycle: San Marino. This is the first significant injury that either of us has suffered over the course of a combined cumulative total of almost 400,000 km of road riding.
Kind Matteo offers to drive us to the nearest hospital, but as a matter of fact we are already in the ER…Emilia-Romagna that is, one of my favorite places to bike in the world. As an experienced Whistler physician, I don’t need X-Rays to diagnose a fractured clavicle, so we instead accept a lift to the nearest hotel. After a shower, an ice pack and 3 ibuprofens, Hisano is comfortable enough to engage in discussion. Eight days remain on our holiday and I have no desire to cut the trip short, so I must formulate a solid case for remaining in Europe. The clincher? If she remains in Italy, she’ll soon enjoy the opportunity to observe up close 166 cute, sculpted young men dressed in skin-tight outfits…the pro cyclists competing in the Giro d’Italia, an annual 3-week race.
Hisano favours my proposal, so now I must go find her a sling. I ride 110 km before finally scoring the necessary item. I suppose I could have found one sooner, but I don’t feel morally obliged to remain at Hisano’s bedside all day. I’m merely respecting doctor’s orders that I’ve long issued to tourists in my practice back home: the partner of an ill or injured patient is encouraged to continue skiing or mountain-biking, depending on the season.
After 2 days’ rest in the Santarcangelo hotel, Hisano has recovered sufficiently to continue the journey by train. While she strolls the streets of Modena and Carpi to enjoy close encounters with the Giro boys, I bike the car-free race route far into the countryside. Naturally good-natured, Hisano is by no means despondent over her condition. In fact, it is the first time she ever travels with me where she is not compelled to bike a minimum 100 km before getting to enjoy dinner.
A couple more train trips take us into Switzerland where I add several historic covered bridges to my international collection. I have now biked through 293 of them, worldwide, including Florida’s only one, in Parkland. We eventually end up at Zurich airport, where we left our bike cases 26 days before. En route to Canada, we have a 2-night layover in Reykjavik.
While Hisano walks the streets of the world’s northernmost capital city, I enjoy a 199-km day loop in the spectacular countryside, never breaking a sweat in the cool breeze. Iceland is the 43rd European country that I bike. Endowed with abundant hydro and geothermal energy, this nation endeavors to become the world’s first carbon-free economy. But in the meantime, native vegetation is actually benefitting from climate change. Average temperatures already 3℃ warmer here, I notice that the trees are growing vigorously. 30% forested when first colonized by the Vikings, the island was almost completely barren by 1950, overgrazed by sheep. 70 years later, I ride by several healthy young forests, primarily birch. The abundant bird life also attracts my attention, and I’m pleased to add Great Skua to my all-time list. On the final morning of the trip, I pedal Reykjavik’s extensive bike path network. It’s funny how the European countries with the harshest climates are the ones with the greatest mode share of hardy, year-round utilitarian cyclists, an example to follow for delicate, fair-weather riders here in Canada. Back home in Whistler, Hisano is finally X-Rayed. The clavicle fracture is confirmed but we also discover 3 broken ribs! I can’t say I’m shocked, as I often warn my medical students to never be complacent with Japanese patients as their stoic nature and their high pain threshold can easily lead one to underestimate the gravity of their injuries. Now back on her bike, Hisano is already training in anticipation of our next tour. Naturally I’m pleased that her crash has not dissuaded her from road riding but I’m even more delighted that she seems to have instead given up road driving. It has now been over 3 months since she last operated her old Suzuki. Apparently, it’s in need of repairs. I suppose I could help her out, but subsidizing personal motor transport is against my principles. I would, however, consider offering funds to replace her car…with an electric bike, one with wide tires, so she’ll be safer on rough roads, and then I’ll never lose sight of her again on tour, as I’ll be tucked behind, content to become a full-time wheel suck in my old age!
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